Huskies enjoy the ride

  • By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, January 13, 2010 11:05pm
  • SportsSports

If the University of Washington women’s basketball team learned anything from the 2008-09 season, it was to enjoy the victories when they come. As the 8-22 Huskies proved last year, wins can be fleeting.

So after needing just 14 games to match last season’s win total, the 2009-10 Huskies have tried to take time to enjoy the moment.

“Coming off of last year, we never really had moments like that. They were few and far between,” said senior Sami Whitcomb said, whose team is riding a three-game winning streak. “This year, we’ve done a good job of making time for (celebration).

“We definitely don’t want to get lost in that … but I definitely think we’re enjoying each win as they come.”

Based on what awaits the Huskies (8-6 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-10 Conference) on the horizon, the sunny skies might be about to take a turn for the worse.

Tonight’s game against a young, underachieving Cal team (6-8, 0-3) could be UW’s toughest challenge to date, while Saturday’s date at second-ranked Stanford (13-1, 3-0) is likely to be the most difficult task of the entire season.

As UW head coach Tia Jackson summed up the Bay Area trip: “We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

Unlike last season, the Huskies are at least playing well enough to have a chance. After getting outscored 174-69 in the two-game trip to the Bay Area last year, UW headed south with a rare sense of confidence this time around.

“The most exciting thing is that we’re finally figuring out how to compete for each other and play hard for each other,” sophomore guard Kristi Kingma said. “And it’s rewarding.”

Despite losing three — and possibly four — players to season-ending injuries, the Huskies have used depth to help carry them through the early conference schedule.

UW’s bench has provided several scoring options in recent games, including senior Laura McLellan’s 16-point performance in a win over Arizona on Saturday.

But the most important depth may have come from the emergence of Kingma. The sophomore from Mill Creek replaced injured starter Sara Mosiman in the starting lineup in early December and has helped lead UW to a 7-2 record while in that role.

As Jackson said this week: “Kristi has definitely found her niche right now.”

Because of injury, Kingma did not play in last January’s 112-35 loss to Stanford. That game set the tone for what would be a historically bad conference season at UW, and it has not been forgotten by those who played in the blowout loss.

“It’ll be tough not to think about last year’s game, but hopefully we can use that as fuel to start us up,” Whitcomb said. “… That game, to me, represented the whole year and how disappointing it was.”

What might be scary for Huskies fans is the fact that this year’s Cardinal team is even better than the 2008-09 squad. Every key member returned, and the emergence of sophomore Nnemkadi Ogwumike and inside-outside post player Kayla Pedersen have rendered returning Pac-10 player of the year Jayne Appel as the team’s third scoring option.

It’s enough to scare an inferior opponent into thinking the Cardinal are unbeatable.

“I hope not,” Jackson said. “I hope we go in and approach it with a game plan like we do every game.

“It’s hard, maybe, for kids ages 18 to 22 to overlook the fact that they’re Stanford. They’re very good, they’ve got a proven mark over the years, and this year they’re No. 2 in the country — and rightfully so. We’ve just got to come in and see if we can’t knock them off their game a little bit.”

Hope came from Stanford’s last outing, a four-point win over UCLA over the weekend.

“They’re a beatable team, just like any other team,” Whitcomb said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how to do that.”

The Huskies’ next two games might not look winnable on paper, but at least this year’s team has proven that it knows how to win. Regardless of what happens in the Bay Area, the Huskies certainly have come a long way.

“I don’t let them forget where we came from. Not at all,” Jackson said. “We’re a team that has learned from our bumps and bruises. As much as we’ve had a little taste of success, we’ve still got a long season in front of us.”

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